Our Indonesia On the Stage

The Jakarta Globe

There doesn’t seem to be a lot to laugh about in Yogyakarta these days. University students and activists regularly take to the streets, angry about what they see as an attack by Jakarta on their culture and traditions.

The House of Representatives has been debating a bill that would end the sultan of Yogyakarta’s automatic appointment as governor of the special province. And for most people there, that’s no laughing matter.

But last week, some Yogyakarta artists brought their take on the issue to a different stage, literally. The artists presented the musical-comedy “Laskar Dagelan: From Republik Jogja With Love” (“The Comedy Troop: From the Republic of Yogyakarta With Love”) at Taman Ismail Marzuki in Central Jakarta on March 29 and 30.

The show was part of a series of events for a program called “Indonesia Kita” (“Our Indonesia”).

“The program is designed to be a creative forum where issues like Yogya’s status and Indonesian pluralism can be debated through art,” said Butet Kertaradjasa, one of the program’s founders and an actor in the show.

The musical-comedy, which was largely set in Yogyakarta’s kraton, or palace, marked the first performance in the “Indonesia Kita” series.

Several prominent performers and artists took part in the show, including comedians Susilo Nugroho, Marwoto and Yu Ningsih, singer Show Imah and movie director Hanung Bramantyo.

Not only did “Laskar Dagelan” sell out, it was also attended by the sultan of Yogyakarta, Hamengkubuwono X, and his wife, GKR Hemas.

It was a unique situation, given that most of the show’s plot revolved around the relationship between Hamengkubuwono and the national government.

In November, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono caused an uproar in Yogyakarta when he said that, as a democracy, Indonesia should no longer recognize the monarchy system.

Yogyakarta’s sultanate is still very much revered by people in that region. While the palace mostly plays a cultural and social role these days, the sultanate played a pivotal role in the country’s independence movement.

The overriding message of “Laskar Dagelan” was that Yogyakarta’s special status should be maintained, but not at the cost of it seceding from Indonesia.

Instead, the show argued, Indonesia’s pluralistic nature should make it possible for Yogyakarta to maintain its special status while still remaining an equal part of the country.

Ananda Adriana, 32, who has lived in Jakarta for eight years but is originally from Yogyakarta, said she really enjoyed the performance.

“My husband told me that there was going to be a musical theater performance by Butet Kertarajasa and friends at Taman Ismail Marzuki, and that Yogyakarta would be the main setting for the story,” Ananda said.

“But what I really loved about the performance were all the Javanese jokes, most of which I hadn’t heard in a long time,” she said.

The organizers of the “Indonesia Kita” series say they plan to continue to take on and address issues that are important to the people on the stage as opposed to out in the streets.

“It will be a bi-monthly event,” Butet said. “Each new chapter will feature a different message regarding Indonesian pluralism. The next chapter will focus on Maluku and its culture.”

“The ‘Indonesia Kita’ program is aimed at highlighting reasons why people should appreciate this country,” he added.

There are, according to organizers, another five musicals that are lined up for the series, which is expected to run through the end of October.

In addition to the theater performances, “Indonesia Kita” will also host a culinary festival designed to show off the many different flavors and dishes of the archipelago.

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